Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Marion E. Kabaker interviews Mortimer Adler

This interview of Mortimer Adler by free-lance writer Marion E. Kabaker in the Chicago Tribune includes this account of one of the most frequent anecdotes about him.

"Of all the celebrities who found some fascination in these seminars, the only one who challenged the whole enterprise was Gertrude Stein, who had been invited to lecture at the university.

"At a dinner party for her given by Bob and Maude Hutchins, both Bob and I were absent because our class met that night. After class was over, we joined the guests for cognac and coffee.

"As we took our places at the table, Gertrude turned to Bob and said, 'Where have you been, Hutchins?' Taken aback by the abruptness and forcefulness of her attack, Bob replied, 'Miss Stein, Mr. Adler and I have been teaching the great books.'

"She pounced on him with even more vigor. "Don't call me Miss Stein,' she said, 'call me Gertrude Stein. What are the great books?'

"After an explanation, Gertrude asked quickly, 'Do you read these books in their original languages or in English translations?'

"Hutchins explained that our freshman students did not have competence in Greek, Latin, Italian or French, pointing out that ideas somehow transcend the language in which they are first expressed.

"'Not so,' our grand inquisitor replied. 'Greek ideas must be studied in Greek, Latin ideas in Latin, and so on.'

"Shortly thereafter the police arrived to take Gertrude on a tour of Chicago at night in a squad car. The way I felt about her at that moment, I wished they had done it earlier and taken her for a ride Chicago-style.

"After the party broke up, Alice B. Toklas turned to me and said: 'This has been a wonderful evening. Gertrude has said things tonight that it will take her 10 years to understand.'"

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